Sunday, June 16, 2024
HomeMiddle EastBiden: US to dam bomb, artillery shell shipments if Israel invades Rafah

Biden: US to dam bomb, artillery shell shipments if Israel invades Rafah

US President Joe Biden said Wednesday that if the Israeli military launches a full-scale operation in Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost city, the United States will stop supplying it with artillery shells, bombs, fighter jets and other offensive weapons.

“I made it clear that if they go into Rafah — they haven’t gone in Rafah yet — if they go into Rafah, I’m not supplying the weapons that have been used historically to deal with Rafah, to deal with the cities — that deal with that problem,” Biden said in an interview Wednesday night with CNN’s Erin Burnett. 

“I’ve made it clear to Bibi [Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu] and the war cabinet: They’re not going to get our support if in fact they go on these population centers,” he added.

“We’re not going to supply the weapons and artillery shells,” Biden said.

It was the first time that Biden or any senior White House official publicly threatened to cut off arms supplies if Israel pursues a military invasion in Rafah.

Biden’s comments come after the Israeli army in recent days launched what the White House has called a “limited” operation in Rafah, including seizing the Rafah crossing on the border with Egypt. 

“They haven’t gone into the population centers. What they did is right on the border. And it’s causing problems with … Egypt, which I’ve worked very hard to make sure we have a relationship and help,” he said. 

Cairo, which is working with Qatar and the United States to advance a cease-fire and hostage-release deal between Israel and Hamas, has voiced strong opposition to an Israeli operation in Rafah, fearing it would exacerbate the humanitarian crisis in the city, where 1.4 Palestinians are seeking shelter. Egypt is also concerned that an offensive in Rafah would cause large numbers of displaced Palestinians to attempt to cross the border.

Biden’s pledge to cut off offensive weapon shipments to Israel came hours after Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin confirmed at a congressional hearing Wednesday that the Biden administration had frozen a planned shipment of 2,000-pound bombs to Israel amid concerns in Washington over a potential Israeli invasion of Rafah. Austin said, however, that the White House has not made a final decision about whether to unfreeze the shipment. 

The White House’s position has fueled fierce pushback from Republican lawmakers. Before the CNN interview aired Wednesday, House Speaker Mike Johnson and the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, wrote a letter to President Biden expressing dismay with the decision to hold up the arms shipment. “We were alarmed that your administration had delayed the delivery of a variety of weapons shipment bound for Israel,” they wrote, adding that the move “flies in the face of assurances provided regarding the timely delivery of security assistance to Israel.” 

The Republican leaders said that they are seeking clarification on the decision-making process and status of future arms shipments to Israel “by the end of the week.” 


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